Over the past several months I have been experimenting with different types of charcoal and charcoal pencils and various papers.
i have tried;
Winsor and Newton Vine charcoal, Hard, medium and soft.
Grumbacher Vine Charcoal, Hard, medium and soft.
Nitram Fusain, H, HB, and B
Wolff Carbon pencil, B, 2B, 4B, 6B
Conte Pencil, Pierre Noire 1710 B
General Charcoal pencils
Prismacolor black col-erase pencil.
I tried them all on these following types of paper.
Canson Mi-Teintes pastel paper, white and grey
Stonehenge White paper
Stonehenge Legion grey paper
BFK Rives printmaking paper in white, grey and tan
Strathmore 500 series charcoal paper in white
Strathmore Bristol Vellum paper in white
Canford Paper in white and Dreadnought grey
Pros and cons of each: Windsor and Newton Vine Charcoal: the sticks sharpen easily but not always consistent in terms of texture and tend to break a bit easily. Dark darks are a bit difficult to acheive unless the paper has a lot of tooth.
These work best with the Canson Mi-teintes paper.
Grumbacher Vine charcoal, more greyish and powdery, I had a difficult time getting this charcoal to adhere to any kind of paper except the pastel sanded papers.
Conte Pencil, easy to acheive dark darks, not at all easy to erase any marks, even the lightest ones on any kind of paper. Does not pick up easily with the kneaded eraser an not at all with a chamois and it was frustrating spending time trying not to tear up or wear down the surface of the paper while erasing.My least favorite pencil for over all rendering but really awesome to go in and acheive some dark darks once the overall drawing and modeling is done. Jeffrey Watts from the Watts Atelier recommends this pencil and he is an amazing artist, I watched some of his videos and realized he hardly ever needs to erase. I’m not anywhere close to being that good so I need to be able to work with a pencil that erases a bit more easily.
Wolff’s Carbon pencil; easier to erase than the conte but not as easy as the vine charcoal. Good variations in tone can be achieved, works well with smooth as well as textured papers. Easy to blend and smooth using a hog bristle brush or paper towel.I got the “ Drawing the Figure” DVD from the Art Renewal Center and Fernando Freitas recommends this particular pencil. He also describes using a hog bristle brush and stomp for blending. Tons of information on his DVD on acheiving nice value transitions and mid tones. Definitely worth watching. Oh a big con with these pencils is that they are so easy to break; you drop it once and they break into peices inside the wood casing. You have to be careful to place them where they wont fall and break so easily, at $2.34 per pencil it really feels awful when they break.
General Charcoal pencils; very nice but a bit waxy and smudgy; somehow difficult to manipulate. I do use the darkest ones for the dark areas and for smooth backgrounds and the white pencils for highlights on toned paper.
Prismacolor Col-erase pencil, Matthew Archambault from Drawing Tutorials Online recommends these and they are very easy to use and a very nice alternative to drawing in graphite.
Nitram Fusain: I like these the best, the sticks are labeled for easy identification, they are a bit thicker than the Windsor and Newton Vine Charcoal, so are easier to handle. They go on and erase smoothly and easily even on the delicate BFK Rives printmaking paper without gouging or shredding the surface of the paper. These are a bit more expensive though than the other brands of vine charcoal, and the sticks are a bit thicker so take a bit more effort to sharpen. I save the charcoal powder for using for toning the background.
Of all the papers I’ve tried; the BFK Rives printmaking paper is the most expensive at about $6 per sheet and I disliked it the most.It comes in a nice 22 X30 sheet with gorgeous deckled edges, the colors are lustrous and even, but the surface is incredibly delicate and gets destroyed with even the mildest of manipulations. I found that the 27 hour drawing I did was very hard on the paper, and I ended up getting a very blotchy appearance in some areas.
The strathmore 500 series charcoal paper, has a nice surface texture and holds the charcoal very well, a bit difficult to acheive smooth value transitions but doable.
The Canson Mi Teintes and Canford papers were very similar and I used the smoother side (sticker side) with really good results.
The Stonehenge paper and Bristol Vellum papers are similar, less surface texture so it a bit more difficult to get the charcoal to stick but easy to blend and the paper is can stand up to application and erasure of multiple layers of charcoal.
The Stonehenge legion paper was nice but somewhere in between the regular stonehenge paper and the BFK rives paper in how it behaved.
One other type of paper I picked up at Blick on impulse and I really liked was the American Master printmaking paper.
For smooth realistic tone and value depiction and ease of handling I finally decided that the best combination is Nitram Fusain on Canson Mi -teintes and the regular Stonehenge papers.
Will post some pictures soon.